With the fate of the bankrupt August Wilson Center for African American Cullture still uncertain, hip-hop artist and activist Paradise Gray held a meeting at the Carnegie Library’s Downtown branch to rally support.
The Feb. 8 meeting drew more people than the meeting room could hold, so some were turned away. But others rotated, 10 in 10 out, so everyone could attend.
Gray, Tim Stevens, Sala Udin, Celeste Taylor and Kimberly Ellis all spoke at some point about the history of the building, of its significance to the Black arts community and about the collective need to save it.
Gray said people who said the Black community didn’t support the center are liars.
“I held the Hip Hop Awards there. I began the One Hood Media academy there. I brought in several artists to perform there,” he said. “And I even got married there.”
He added that no museum on earth relies on through the door admission for funding. They are all subsidized.
“We’ve been subsidizing baseball on the North Side since forever,” he said. “If we can do that we can subsidize the Wilson Center.”
Udin said he and the other founders of the center who worked for 14 years to get it built made some mistakes.
“We have to look in the mirror and honestly evaluate those mistakes because they will serve as the basis for doing it right next time,” he said.
The upshot of the meeting was creating a database of phone, email and social media contacts to bring various supporters into a cohesive whole. The next step will be a “Raise Your Fist Up: Save The August Wilson Center” rally scheduled for Feb. 21 at 4 p.m. in front of the center.
Days after the meeting, however, state Auditor General Eugene D. Pasquale poured cold water on one effort to save the center–its purchase by the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
School Board member Mark Brentley had created an ad hoc committee to explore the purchase, most likely as an adjunct to CAPA High School. Pasquale, who is currently auditing the city school district, said, basically: forget about it.
“In no way, shape or form is the school district in any position to assume that type of debt,” he said.
The district is facing shrinking enrollment, shrinking revenue and a deficit that could place them under state receivership in two years should not be taking another $10 million debt.
Brentley thinks the opportunity to use it as a moneymaker by drawing in suburban students is too good to pass up.
“We are the next best owner of the August Wilson Center,” he reiterated.
Former Bankruptcy Judge and Liquidator for the center Judith Fitzgerald has set a deadline of March 31 for purchase proposals.
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